Swell Classification Guidelines
Significant: Winter - Swell 8 ft @ 14 secs or greater (11+ ft faces) for 8+ hours (greater than double overhead).
Summer - Head high or better.
Advanced: Winter - Swell and period combination capable of generating faces 1.5 times overhead to double overhead (7-10 ft)
Summer - Chest to head high.
Intermediate/Utility Class: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces at head high to 1.5 times overhead (4-7 ft).
Summer - Waist to chest high.
Impulse/Windswell: Winter - Swell and period combination generating faces up to head high (1-4 ft) or anything with a period less than 11 secs.
Summer - up to waist high swell. Also called 'Background' swell.
On Thursday (9/25) in North and Central CA surf was 10 ft on the face on the sets early and clean but a little on the weak side coming from a storm that was just off the coast earlier. Down in Santa Cruz surf was head high to 1 ft overhead and a bit warbled with cross lump and texture on top of that. In Southern California up north surf was head high and soft with heavy texture on it also from the local storm. Down south waves were waist high and chopped. Hawaii's North Shore was getting Gulf sideband swell with waves shoulder to maybe head high and reasonably clean, though a little sideshore bump was still in the mix. The South Shore remained near flat with waves knee to thigh high and clean. On the East Shore windswell was producing waves at waist high and chopped with easterly trades in effect.
See QuikCASTs for the 5 day surf overview or read below for the detailed view.
For the North Pacific swell from a storm previously off the Pacific Northwest on Tues (9/23) is to continue producing surf for the US West Coast into Friday (9/26). A tiny low is to produce 17 ft seas in the North Gulf on Sat (9/27) while a small but stronger gale produces 36 ft seas off Kamchatka targeting mainly Hawaii. And tropical activity to recurve northeast off Japan longterm but any particular outcome is undetermined. In the southern hemisphere a moderate gale tracked under New Zealand on Mon (9/22) producing 41 ft seas fading on Tuesday with 36 ft seas. Remnant energy is to regenerate producing 30-32 ft seas across the entire South Pacific Thurs-Fri (9/26). More southwest swell generation looks possible. Nothing else is forecast for the South Pacific beyond. The focus continues to shift to the North Pacific.
SHORT- TERM FORECAST
Current marine weather and wave analysis.cgius forecast conditions for the next 72 hours
Jetstream - On Thursday (9/25) the jetstream over the North Pacific was tracking off North Japan falling slightly southeast into a weak trough over the dateline with 110 kt winds feeding it, then ridging northward over the Western Gulf, then falling into a stronger trough pushing into San Francisco with 130 kt winds feeding it. Decent support for gale development in the San Francisco trough with lesser support for the dateline trough. Over the next 72 hours both these troughs are to fade some through Saturday (9/27) while a new weak trough starts building over the dateline Sun (9/28) with 130 kts winds feeding it. Beyond 72 hours that trough is to dig deeper into Tues (9/30) with 130-140 kt winds feeding it , getting steeper 1200 nmiles north-northwest of Hawaii offering decent support for gale development. But that trough is to pinch off on Thurs (10/2) offering no support and the jet lifting hard north into the Eastern Bering Sea late in the day, suggestive of high pressure building at the surface.
Surface Analysis - On Thursday (9/23) swell from a small storm that formed off the North California Coast on Tues (9/23) was still hitting, but fading steadily. The remnants of that system were off British Columbia producing north winds at 30 kts generating 17 ft seas at 47N 137W and windswell pushing down the US West Coast. Otherwise high pressure at 1024 mbs was north of Hawaii generating 15 kt trades pushing over the Hawaiian Islands. Tropical Storm Kammuri was developing in the West Pacific generating seas targeting Japan, but not at our forecast area.
Over the next 72 hours a new low pressure system is to start developing over the Eastern Aleutians tracking southeast with winds 30 kts on Fri AM (9/26). It's to hold almost stationary there in the evening with seas to 17 ft at 50N 160W, then start tracking east producing only 25 kt west winds and no seas of interest. Maybe some small windswell to result for the US West Coast.
Also a new small storm is forecast developing from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fung-Wong just off Kamchatka on Fri PM (9/26) with 55 kt northwest winds and 32 ft seas over a tiny area at 47N 160E targeting Hawaii. This system is to start fading Sat AM (9/27) with 40-45 kts northwest winds and seas building to 36 ft at 44N 164E targeting Hawaii down the 313 degree track, but a long ways away. Fetch fading from 30 kts in the evening with seas fading from 28 ft at 44N 174E (321 degs HI). Some swell production seems likely relative to Hawaii.
North Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
On Thursday (9/25) Tropical Storm Kammuri was about 900 nmiles southeast of Tokyo Japan with winds 35 kts and drifting north. This system is to continue on this heading easing a bit to the northwest and slowly accelerating with winds building to hurricane force Fri PM (9/26) peaking Sun AM (9/28) with winds 75 kts about 350 nmiles southeast of Tokyo. A turn to the northeast to follow with steady weakening forecast. The core of the storm is to get absorbed in a cold core low over Kamchatka and directed north into Russia by Wed (10/1). No swell production forecast for our forecast area.
California Nearshore Forecast
On Thursday AM (9/25) a low was off the Pacific Northwest coast with a front and southerly winds reaching to Bodega Bay, and fading there. Light winds were in control of the rest of the coast. High pressure and north winds to build in behind the front starting Fri PM (9/26) pushing 20 kts Sat AM and taking over the North and Central CA coast. Those winds to back off Sunday late AM except 20 kts over Cape Mendocino, and continuing into Monday but starting to fall south late, with the gradient again setting up over the entire North and Central coasts Tues AM (9/30) at 15-20 kts building to 25 kt over Cape Mendo Wednesday with a finger of 25 kt winds off the Central Coast. High pressure is to be lodged off North CA into Thursday with more north wind forecast for the North and Central coasts. Suspect the warm water there is going to take a hit with some upwelling occurring.
Surface Analysis - On Tuesday (9/20) swell from a small gale that tracking northeast from Northern New Zealand was pushing towards Hawaii (see New Zealand Gale below). Also a storm tracking east under New Zealand (see Stronger New Zealand Storm below) and was fading, but forecast to regenerate some. Over the next 72 hours no other swell production is forecast.
New Zealand Gale
A small gale started building directly over Central New Zealand on Sun (9/21) pushing northeast and free and clear of land Mon AM (9/22) with winds 40 kts aimed well northeast with seas building from 23 ft. By evening winds were holding at 40 kts aimed well northeast with seas building to 27 ft at 31S 170W targeting Tahiti (230 degs) and Hawaii. The fetch area started tracking east Tues AM (9/23) with winds southwest still 40 kts and seas peaking at 30 ft at 30S 161W (216 degs Tahiti, 186 degs Hawaii). Fetch started fading in the evening and falling southeast. No additional swell generation occurred Tahiti or Hawaii. Swell expected best for Tahiti with secondary swell for Hawaii.
Hawaii: Swell arrival expected late Sat (9/27) with swell to 2.2 ft @ 16-17 secs (3.5 ft). Swell peaking Sun AM (9/28) at 2.3 ft @ 15 secs (3.5 ft). Residuals on Mon (9/29) at 2.3 ft @ 13 secs (2.5-3.0 ft). Swell Direction: 186-193 degrees
Stronger New Zealand Gale
A tiny storm started developing southwest of Tasmania on Sun PM (9/21) with 50 kts west winds and seas 39 ft over a small area at 59S 139E (218 NCal and SCal and unshadowed). 45-50 kt west-southwest fetch built in coverage on Mon AM (9/22) while pushing east with 40 ft seas at 58S 150E (218 degs SCal and barely unshadowed, 217 degs NCal and unshadowed). Winds faded to 40 kts in the evening still aimed decently east-northeast with seas 37 ft at 58S 163E (214 degs SCal and shadowed, 213 degs NCal and barely unshadowed and moving into the HI swell window at 200 degs). 40 kt southwest winds held into Tues AM (9/23) with 36 ft seas at 57S 173E (211 degs NCal and partially shadowed, 212 degs SCal and shadowed, 195 degs HI). But the Jason-2 satellite passed right over the core of the storm reporting seas 42 ft with a peak reading to 46 ft where the model suggested only 35 ft seas. You don't see that often. The model was under hyping the storm. Fetch was fading in the evening from 35 kts over a large area aimed northeast with seas fading from 34 ft at 55S 177W (190 degs HI, 208 degs NCal and shadowed, 210 degs SCal and still barely shadowed).
Hawaii: Swell arrival expected late on Mon (9/29) at 1.6 ft @ 19 secs (3.0 ft faces). Swell building into Tues (9/30) pushing 2.3 ft @ 17 secs late (4 ft). Swell peaking on Wed (10/1) with swell 3.2 ft @ 16 secs (5 ft). Residuals fading Thurs (10/2) from 2.6 ft @ 14-15 secs (3.5-4.0 ft) Swell Direction: 190-200 degrees
NCal: Swell arrival forecast mid-day Thurs (10/2) with swell 1.4 ft @ 18-19 secs (2.5 ft). Swell Direction: 211-216 degrees
SCal: Swell arrival forecast early Thurs (10/2) with period 20 secs building to 2.3 ft @ 19 secs late (4.0 ft). Swell Direction: 212-217 degrees
The remnants of this system were starting to regenerate Thurs AM (9/25) with 35-40 kt southwest winds building over a decent sized area pushing east with seas 28 ft at 44S 161W (182 degs HI, 206 degs NCal and shadowed, 209 degs SCal and becoming unshadowed). 40 kt southwest fetch to build into the evening with 32 ft seas at 43S 151W and moving out of the Hawaii swell window (201 degs NCal and unshadowed, 203 degs SCal).40-45 kt west-southwest fetch is forecast Fri AM (9/26) with 34 ft seas at 42S 140W (193 degs NCal, 194 degs SCal). in the evening fetch to be tracking flat east with west winds 40 kts and 33 ft seas fading at 42S 130W (187 degs NCal, 188 degs SCal). More 16-17 sec period backfill energy possibly radiating north.
South Pacific Animations: Jetstream - Surface Pressure/Wind - Sea Height - Surf Height
Marine weather and forecast conditions 3-10 days into the future
Beyond 72 hours A new small storm is forecast developing from the remnants of Tropical Storm Fung-Wong just off Kamchatka on Fri PM (9/26) with 50 kt northwest winds and seas on the increase. This system is to start fading Sat AM (9/27) with 45 kts northwest winds and seas building to 32 ft at 47N 168E targeting Hawaii well but a long ways away. Fetch fading from 35 kts in the evening with seas fading from 27 ft at 47N 175E. Some swell production possible relative to Hawaii if one is to believe the models.
Note: The Madden Julian Oscillation is a periodic weather cycle that tracks east along the equator circumnavigating the globe. It is characterized in it's Inactive Phase by enhanced trade winds and dry weather over the part of the equatorial Pacific it is in control of, and in it's Active Phase by slack if not an outright reversal of trade winds and enhanced precipitation. The oscillation occurs in roughly 20-30 day cycles (Inactive for 20-30 days, then Active for 20-30 days) over any single location on the.cgianet. During the Active Phase in the Pacific the MJO tends to support the formation of stronger and longer lasting gales resulting in enhanced potential for the formation of swell producing storms. During the Inactive Phase the jet stream tends to .cgiit resulting in high pressure and less potential for swell producing storm development. The paragraphs below analyze the state of the MJO in the Pacific and provide forecasts for MJO activity (which directly relate to the potential for swell production).
Southern Oscillation Index (SOI) On Thursday (9/25) the daily SOI was up to -0.35. The 30 day average was up slightly at -9.16 and the 90 day average was up slightly at -7.62. The near term trend based on the 30 day average was indicative of a weak Active Phase of the MJO. The longer term pattern was indicative of the Active Phase of the MJO. We're now at 65 days of near continuous negative daily SOI values, an important milestone and suggestive that El Nino is taking root. A high pressure regime is starting to take control south of Tahiti and expected to hold through Thurs (10/2) with a positive SOI likely. But more low pressure is expected to follow directly.
Current equatorial surface wind analysis indicated weak west anomalies over the Maritime Continent turning easterly approaching the dateline and continuing to a point mid-way to the Galapagos, then dying to neutral the rest of the way to the Galapagos. A week from now (10/3) strong westerly anomalies are forecast over the Maritime Continent, fading to neutral approaching the dateline and holding to a point south of Hawaii. Light east anomalies are to extend from there half way to the Galapagos fading to neutral on into the Galapagos. This suggests a near neutral pattern was over the West equatorial Pacific but is to turn Active a week out. The TOA array indicated neutral to slightly east anomalies over the equatorial West Pacific and light easterly in pockets east of there.
Looking at the trend over the past few months there has not been a extended period of enhanced trades so far this year, and we're over 268 days into the year. The trend is clearly towards westerly anomalies (suppressed trades) which suggests a bias towards El Nino. Big westerly wind bursts occurred Jan-April, followed by a neutral period May into early June. The TOA array surface sensors (the ground truth) indicated moderate westerly anomalies re-developed west of the dateline 6/25-7/6, then again 7/11-7/20, building into a WWB and holding through 8/10. Light westerly anomalies developed again 8/20-8/22, 8/29-9/2 and 9/10-9/17 west of the dateline. Neutral anomalies filled the gaps. Another Kelvin Wave (modest at this point) is in-flight associated with westerly anomalies during June, July into mid-August and continues to be fed up to the current date. Compared to La Nina where enhanced trades (20+ kts) would be blowing non-stop, we're in great shape and have been all year. No easterly anomalies of interest have occurred all year. It would be hard to make a case stating some flavor of weak El Nino was not in.cgiay at this point.
See our new Kelvin Wave Generation Area monitoring model here.
The longer range Outgoing Longwave Radiation (OLR) models (dynamic and statistical) run on 9/25 are generally in sync. They both suggest a dead neutral MJO pattern over the West Pacific. Per both models no real change is forecast for the next 15 days though the Dynamic model suggests weak to modest Active tendencies 10-15 days out. This is the classic modest El Nino setup (ie. complete suppression of the MJO). The ultra long range upper level model run 9/25 depicts a modest Inactive Phase over the far East Pacific and all but gone by 10/5 with a weak Active Phase over the West Pacific pushing east through 10/20.A very weak Inactive pulse to follow. Recent experience this year suggests this model overhypes any projected Inactive Phases. This suggests that warming water in the equatorial East Pacific is starting to have some gentle guiding impact on the atmosphere above. The upper level model tends to be a leading indicator, with surface level anomalies lagging behind 1 week or more.
Surface Water Temps: The more warm water in the equatorial East Pacific means more storm production in the North Pacific during winter months (roughly speaking). Cold water in that area has a dampening effect. Regardless of what the atmospheric models and surface winds suggest, actual water temperatures are a ground-truth indicator of what is occurring in the ocean. As of the most recent low res imagery (9/25) nothing dramatic has changed. A moderately warm water regime remains in control of the equatorial East Pacific, down some from the peak of the Kelvin Wave eruptions in late June in the east, but up some since early Sept and building over the NINO 3.4 region with 1.0 deg C anomalies present there and +1.0 deg anomalies near 160E (Kelvin Wave Generation Area), suggesting more warm water is poised to track east. Hi res imagery indicates a string of warm pockets over the width of the equator between the Galapagos and the dateline with no anomalies less that 0. Warm water continues to slowly but steadily build on the surface, with a new Kelvin Wave poised to erupt over the Galapagos. These are good times.
Elsewhere, the entire North Pacific Ocean is full of warmer than normal water. There are virtually no signs of high pressure induced upwelling streaming southwest off California as would be expected this time of year. And serious warm water is entrenched along the California coast and building in coverage, the exact opposite of the trend of the past 3+ years. Waters temps in San Francisco are 62 degrees and holding solid. Very rare. But this is expected if El Nino were in.cgiay. This is significant in that is suggests the Gulf of Alaska High pressure system is much weakened relative to normal years, with north winds and upwelling much suppressed. The South Pacific is mostly normal/neutral except for cool water streaming off Southern Chile pushing west reaching up to the equator just south of Hawaii. But even the areal coverage of that pocket is in decline, suggesting a warm regime is getting the upper hand over the entire Pacific Basin. Overall the total amount of warmer than normal water in the North Pacific remains most impressive, while the South Pacific is starting to trend in the same direction.
Subsurface Waters Temps on the equator continue solidly warm. As of 9/22 a +1.0 C anomaly flow was filling the equatorial Pacific from 150 meters up and east of 150E with an embedded pocket of +2-3 deg anomalies at 100-140W pushing up towards the Galapagos. This is great news indicating the pipe is open and a Kelvin Wave is in flight. The leading edge of this new Kelvin Wave is making quick advances now nearly reaching the Galapagos. Satellite data from 9/20 depicts a solid area of +5 cm anomalies are covering the dateline region and tracking east reaching the Galapagos, indicative of a Kelvin Wave starting to impact that area. This is right as predicted. And the coverage of anomalies is increasing over the dateline and well into the South Pacific reaching almost to Tahiti, suggesting more warm water is flowing into the pipe and backing up in the west. Other models collaborate the presumption of Kelvin Wave genesis. The latest chart of upper Ocean Heat Content (9/20) indicates this modest Kelvin Wave is developing in the west reaching east to 105W, with the cool upwelling Phase of the previous Kelvin Wave gone. Even better, a new Kelvin wave is building back at 150E-170w, in sync with the satellite data. It is assumed the light westerly anomalies if late in the West Pacific are feeding more warm water into the pipe. At this time we are well over the proverbial 'hump'. As the first Kelvin Wave arrives at the Galapagos (~Sept 30), more warm water will reinforce the existing warm pool theoretically pushing things into minimal El Nino territory. And if a second Kelvin Wave is in development, then we are set into January. Of course that cannot be declared until the first Kelvin Wave hits, but everything is lining up. The quandary now is whether this will be a one year event, or something longer.
Pacific Counter Current data as of 9/16 suggests an improved pattern. The current is pushing west to east over the entire Pacific on and north of the equator focused on the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ) reaching into Central America. Just south of the equator the current was generally pushing east to west. West anomalies were just north of the equator over the width of the equatorial Pacific strongest between 130-140E and between 155W-100W. East anomalies were confined to the equator from 150-160E in the heart of the Kevin Wave Generation Area. This data suggests a mixed picture but slightly better than the last update. But it appears the easterly current is no longer overtaking the westerly component. A slight improvement.
Projections from the monthly CFSv2 model run 9/25 are stable and in an interesting way. It suggests water temps have built to +0.5 deg C and are to hold to early Oct then start increasing building to +1.0 deg C in mid-Nov (down from the +1.75 deg C predicted in May and then revised down to +1.55 deg C predicted in early July). But the real interesting part is that water temps are hold decently still at +0.9 into June 2015. This suggests that perhaps we are moving towards a multi-year warm event. See the chart based version here - link.
Analysis: A massive Kelvin Wave was generated by successive Westerly Wind Bursts in Jan-April and erupted in the Galapagos region late June and is now dispersed. The WWB ended on 5/1 with the last of the warm water from it arriving 3 months later over the Galapagos on 8/1. At one point it looked like neutral water temps would be taking over the Galapagos-Ecuador-Peru triangle with no immediate Kelvin Wave reinforcements projected. But instead a persistent warm water temp regime stabilized there, and not much different temperature-wise from what it was at the peak of Kelvin Wave impact. Continued suppressed trades with embedded weak westerly anomalies developed in the West Pacific in July and have held through present time producing at least one new Kelvin Wave with +3 degs C in flight now. Water temps have held in the Galapagos triangle in the +1.5 degree range for several months now. There was some temporary loss of water temps in the Nino3.4 range in July attributable to the upwelling phase of the previous Kevin Wave, but temps have now rebounded with water temps stable in the Galapagos region. This is good news.
Assuming westerly anomalies continue in the Kelvin Wave Generation Area (west of the dateline), more warm water will migrate east. This seems reasonable seeing how there has been virtually no easterly anomalies for the first 9 months of this year. And trades tend to weaken during Fall months in the northern hemi, meaning we're just now starting to reach the point in time where Westerly Wind Bursts should have the best support for development. Most El Nino's do not develop till the Fall, including the Super El Nino of '83/83. Only a few (namely the '97 Super El Nino) developed and survived strong through the summer and over the span of an entire year. A more 'normal' development life cycle would favor the alternating 'downwelling/upwelling' Kelvin Wave cycle. See currently Upper Oceanic Heat Content chart here. Notice the alternating eastward migrating 'cool' and 'warm' cycles (upwelling/downwelling Kelvin Waves). Also note the CFSv2 model accurately depicted the upwelling Kelvin Wave Phase, with water temps in Nino1.2 fading in August then redeveloping in September.
And finally, there's the 'feedback loop' consideration. We suspect it is in.cgiay. The largest argument in favor of that is the total breakdown of the Gulf of Alaska high pressure system, resulting in very high water temps off California. Also the early season recurving of mult.cgie tropical low pressure systems tracking northeast off Japan bound for the dateline. And the pulse of tropical activity near Hawaii on the week of 8/4 and those systems continued evolution in the West Pacific is most telling. And then that pulse was followed by another pulse of tropical activity off Mexico (8/18-9/20) resulting in Lowell, Super Hurricane Marie, followed by Odile and Polo (though these last 2 produced no swell). The last time this happened was during the '97 and '83 El Ninos. The only argument against the feedback loop now is the development of a west moving Pacific Counter Current. Previous negative arguments concerning a dissipating Kelvin Wave, degradation of peak water temps in the Ecuador triangle and only a neutral 90 day SOI (rather than a negative one) have all turned in favor of an El Nino like pattern. For the most part they were just symptoms of the upwelling Phase of the Kelvin Wave cycle.
Only once the ocean and atmosphere are co.cgied on a global level (that is, the ocean has imparted enough heat into the atmosphere to start changing the global jetstream pattern) can one begin to have confidence that a feedback loop is developing and a fully matured El Nino can result. About 3 months of undisturbed heating is required for the atmosphere to start responding on a global level where the point of 'no return' could be achieved. The warm pool starting forming in earnest on 5/1, and so the atmosphere would not trip over the 'no-return' point till 8/1. We have passed that threshold. As of 9/2, all the arguments against a feedback loop being in.cgiace were fading out except the Pacific Counter Current. Assuming the arguments against co.cgiing were all associated with the upwelling Kelvin Wave phase, then one can conclude the ocean and atmosphere are now linked/teleconnected. Considering the size and duration of the westerly wind bursts in Jan-April, it seem hard to believe that at least some Pacific Basin wide 'change' was not already well entrenched even early this year, and had been developing since perhaps as early and Oct of 2013 (when the first Kelvin Wave of the series started taking shape). Monitoring the number, location and track of tropical systems in the North Pacific over October will help to put the final nail in coffin. We will continue monitoring westerly wind anomalies and warm subsurface water buildup in and under the Kelvin Wave Generation area. Also monitoring of the NPac jetstream (which has already been productive) and Atlantic hurricane activity (which is relatively nonexistent) are key. But at this time odds continue stacking very much in favor that a global teleconnection has now being established. If that's true, the focus then becomes estimating how deep the ENSO cycle will become, or whether it will stay shallow but transition into a multi-year event.
As of now we're becoming very inclined to state that we are in a cycle that would be considered warm as of 20 Sept 2014. At a minimum the ocean is well past recharge mode, with cold water from the multiyear 2010-2013 La Nina cycle dispersed and temperatures on the rise. Officially we are still in a neutral ENSO atmospheric pattern, with no El Nino in.cgiay. But given all current signs, from a winter storm and swell production perspective, atmospheric transition is underway. Even if we never reach official El Nino status this is a far better.cgiace than previous years (2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-2013) under the direct influence of La Nina. And it seems apparent we've recovered from the 2009-2010 El Nino. We've turned the corner. Still lingering concerns about what appears to be a decadal bias towards a cooler regime (since 1998) will temper our forecasts.
See imagery in the ENSO Powertool and more details in the El Nino Update Updated 12/4/13
Beyond 72 hours no swell production is forecast.
Details to follow...
External Reference Material: El Nino Southern Oscillation (ENSO), Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO), Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO), Southern Oscillation Index (SOI), Kelvin Wave
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